'After Earth' has officially wrapped in Humboldt County! Below is the Times-Standard article:'After Earth' wraps, Will Smith and company move on to next location; hustle and bustle of production is fading
Grant Scott-Goforth/The Times-Standard
Posted: 05/03/2012 02:37:32 AM PDT
As quickly as they came, Will Smith, M. Night Shyamalan and the largest film production in Humboldt Redwoods State Park are gone.
Behind them, they leave a dust cloud and a cash injection to the county's economy that could easily reach into the millions.
On Tuesday, the movie's last day of shooting in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the Times-Standard was invited to the “After Earth” base camp, a state-of-the-art tent city that bloomed and disappeared on a small gravel bar off of Dyerville Loop Road in less than two weeks.
The production camp, hidden from roads and well-guarded, was the staging ground and feeding area for the more than 400 people who had been working since last Monday on the science fiction film.
The camp was a miniature city of hyper-concentrated activity, with dozens of gleaming white semi-trailers, trucks and vans.
Unit publicist Cid Swank led a tour of the camp, pointing out trailers full of camera equipment, special-effects materials and stunt gear. Will Smith's camp, adjacent but separated from the crew area, was hidden by a large canopy.
Base camp even included a school, Swank said, since Jaden Smith and several other actors in the film are minors, and they are expected to keep up their studies while traveling and filming.
The center of the camp is a large kitchen and cafeteria where -- as the crew broke for a 30-minute lunch break -- hundreds of people gathered to eat salmon steaks, chicken, ribs anda variety of salads and desserts. Even California Highway Patrol officers and State Park Rangers joined in on the meal.
The sun was out, though wind gusts would occasionally send a dust cloud whipping through the camp, when Executive Producer Bennett Walsh sat in his clean, quiet trailer to talk about why the film chose Humboldt County.
”I think the parks have been phenomenal -- because they're a character in the film,” Walsh said. “The director, Will -- they love what they've been getting here.”
Walsh, whose credits include the “Kill Bill” films and “The Kite Runner,” doesn't stick out in Humboldt County with his shoulder-length hair and calm demeanor. He leaned back in his chair as he talked about traveling around the world making movies. “This is definitely one of the top locations.”
Walsh said the film's production designer had a distinct vision, a “smashup” of the North Coast's redwoods and the rainforest of Costa Rica, where the crew filmed earlier this year. Extensive scouting in Humboldt and Del Norte counties left a difficult choice, but the filmmakers eventually decided on Humboldt Redwoods State Park because the groves were less dense than others found in Redwood National Park.
Walsh said they liked the horizontal imagery of the giant trees as much as their vertical stature, and the groves allowed them to pull back and draw the character out of the iconic trees.
”Everything's more graphic,” Walsh said.
Scenes were filmed in Rockeller, Founders and Women's Federation groves, which will provide the backdrop of an imagined Earth 1,000 years after humankind abandoned the planet.
Details about the film were scant -- the Times-Standard wasn't allowed on set -- but reports indicate that Will and Jaden Smith play a father and son who crash land on Earth.
Walsh said that the first view of the uninhabited planet in the film will be shot from Kneeland.
”It's gonna be beautiful,” Walsh said.
Walsh also described a a chase scene that saw Jaden Smith and stunt actors jump into the Eel River.
People involved with the film explained that the secrecy and security surrounding the film had to do with protecting the plot, set and costume design, and sheltering the actors.
Humboldt County Film Commissioner Cassandra Hesseltine said the security wasn't unique to Humboldt County or to “After Earth.”
”There's something to be said about not giving away all the pieces,” Hesseltine said. “With someone of Will Smith's stature, you just never know. They're all big figures in our society.”
Despite the secrecy surrounding “After Earth,” director Shyamalan -- who was nominated for an Academy Award for “The Sixth Sense” -- has been sharing Twitter updates about the local shoot and made a surprise appearance at the City of Eureka's “Growing Unity, Leadership, Community and Health” teen program Tuesday.
In an email, City of Eureka Recreation Activities Coordinator Brian S. Millett wrote that Shyamalan discussed his career and answered questions about filmmaking with teens in the program's filmmaking workshop.
Swank said that in their off hours, crew members have enjoyed local entertainment and food, sharing notes about their favorite restaurants in the county. She pointed out a member of the crew cleaning his mountain bike and said that local outdoor activities kept the thrill-seeking stunt team satisfied, even after hours.
Walsh wouldn't give specifics on the movie's budget, but the sprawling base camp, meals and transportation -- not to mention a $60 per diem for the 400-member crew, according to Walsh -- indicated that it was no small sum.
Every detail was covered, from a steady stream of shuttles between set and base camp to small flags placed around every poison oak plant.
Hesseltine said that the crew was considered the best of the best, and their experience, along with the fact that they are happy in Humboldt County, led to the trouble-free production.
”Most people won't ever see that and understand how much organization it takes.” Hesseltine said.
Walsh said that shooting in Humboldt County had been the smoothest part of the film. Expecting rain and a high Eel River, the production was happy to have mostly good weather and a cooperative community.
Eel River Sector Supervising Ranger John O'Rourke said there have been no problems in the park. Permits to shoot in the protected groves included stipulations about litter, noise and the introduction of non-native plants.
”For the most part the production company has been left to their own devices,” O'Rourke said. “They've been pretty respectful.”
Walsh said that the county's experience with filmmaking influenced the decision to film here.
”Every place we're going to, we're going for the look,” Walsh said. “You also have to have the infrastructure. We soak up a lot of resources. We roll in like a storm.”
Grant Scott-Goforth can be reached at 441-0514 or email@example.com.